Side Effects of Anesthesia in Cats

Written by susan leisure | 13/05/2017

Many cats need surgery at some point in their lives, including routine spay/neuter surgeries and dental cleanings. Veterinary anesthesia today is very safe, but there are risks. Some cats also experience complications and side effects after the surgery. Before your cat is anesthetized, understand the process and risks your cat faces.

Understanding Anesthesia

Anesthesia can be divided into two categories: local anesthesia and general anethesia. Local anesthetic drugs numb the nerves and relax the muscles in a specific location in the cat's body. General anesthesia induces unconsciousness in the cat, relaxing their entire bodies and blocking all pain sensations.

Recovery from Anesthesia

Side Effects of Anesthesia in Cats
Cats may be drowsy for up to 24 hours after receiving general anesthesia. (Image by, courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin)

Most healthy animals who receive general anesthesia will begin waking up shortly after administration of the gas anesthesia is stopped or when the injectable anesthesia begins to wear off. Cats that take longer than 24 hours to return to normal behavior should be seen by a veterinarian.

Respiratory and Cardiac Problems With Anesthesia

One of the most dangerous side effects of anesthesia in cats is caused by a reaction to the anesthesia. In these cases, the cat may experience severe respiratory distress, including labored or stopped breathing and heart arrhythmias and failure. Often, a respiratory and/or cardiac problem arising from the anesthesia can be a symptom of a larger problem, such as cardiac or lung disease.

Body Temperature and Anesthesia

When under anesthesia, cats are unable to regulate their body temperature. The longer a cat is under anesthesia, the more the body temperature will drop. Veterinarians often place cats on warm mats during surgery and recovery, in order to keep them warm.

Vomitting and Nausea

Anesthesia often causes vomiting and nausea in cats. Feed cats frequent, small amounts of food and water at a time for the first 24 hours of recovery, to minimize the digestive problems that can be caused by anesthesia.

Behavioral Changes

Side Effects of Anesthesia in Cats
Anesthesia may cause a cat to act abnormally aggressive or timid. (Image by, courtesy of Vladislav Sabanov)

In some cases, anesthesia may cause temporary behavior changes in a cat. The cat may not recognize familiar people or other pets, or may act timid or aggressive. Most behaviors should return to normal within a few days. If the abnormal behavior persists, a veterinarian should be consulted.

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